Take ‘Shop Talk’ Off the Farm

January 29, 2013 06:36 PM

Conversations with state and national representatives pay dividends

Exec Women in Ag

Commodity groups and farm organizations exist to advocate for farmers at the state and national levels and they do a good job, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the picture. As a farmer, it’s in your best interest to tune in to what’s going on in your state and in Washington, D.C., and be willing to participate in the democratic process.

Rep. Annette Sweeney (R-Iowa), who farms corn and soybeans with a purebred cow–calf operation in Alden, Iowa, says many farmers are told to "tell their story," but most end up preaching to the choir.

"When you reach out to your elected officials, you bring real working experience to them and their staff—education, what is working and what is not," she says. "Elected officials are not mind readers. We must be willing to call and explain how an issue impacts us. Cookie-cutter e-mails don’t cut it."

As a farmer, it’s in your best interest to tune in to what's going on and be willing to participate in the democratic process. But where do you start?

Commodity groups work for you. "If you have a question, call their lobbyist and ask," Sweeney says.

These issues might seem remote, but they often hit the pocketbook at home. For example, had the Federal Communications Commission not blocked LightSquared’s planned development of a nationwide wireless network early last year, U.S. farmers would have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in GPS technology. The LightSquared plan would have rendered all those investments, plus the consumer GPS market estimated to reach $29 billion by 2015, useless.

To get farmers started, Sweeney encourages them to check the newspaper, as most legislators host town hall meetings. "Go and listen," she says. "Introduce yourself, and afterwards send a letter. Tell them about yourself and ask to meet with them."

Kelly Smith, the marketing and commodities director for the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, says legislators know when you’re speaking from the heart. "You are the expert on farming; you do the job day in and day out," he notes. "You’ll be surprised at how comfortable you are during the conversation."

These relationships can take you and the issues important to you a long way. It’s all about relationships. "Even though we have all these electronic ways of communicating, picking up the phone or sitting down one-on-one is still the best way," Sweeney says.

Kelly says you can also influence policy by educating people who live in your community. "There are many new faces in rural communities, and while they know who we are and what we do, they don’t have a clue what’s going on or why. When you’re at a ball game or church, talk about what you do and why. If we each educate a few people in our own community, it can make a big difference when issues are put on the ballot."

Kelly tells farmers they have to add one more chore to the list of things to do every day: communicate. "We have no choice. Today one farmer feeds 155 people; that’s 155 people who don’t have to think about where their food comes from. We’ve been so successful that people no longer understand what we do."

To learn about the policies in your state and who is representing you, visit www.TopProducer-Online.com/Advocacy.

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